run across america running cross country
(Photo: Courtesy of Whitney Dreier)

How to Run Across America

Thinking of making like Forrest Gump? Here's a guide to help you plan the ultimate pedestrian road trip.

run across america running cross country

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“Logistics are crucial to accomplishing any goal,” says Helene Neville, a nurse and cancer survivor who ran from San Diego, California, to Jacksonville, Florida, during the summer of 2010. “For my run, I tried to get as much information and communication together as I could, but in the end, you still have to just do it.”

And apparently there are a lot of folks who have just done it—252 of them, according to, a site started by John Wallace III, who completed a transcontinental run in January 2005.

“I had been running every day for 14 years (a ‘streaker’) and was looking for the next adventure,” remembers Wallace, noting that reasons for attempting a cross-country run differ for everyone. “Charities and causes are popular recently; running to see who is the fastest or who can do it on a certain route or in a certain way; personal adventure, or simply pushing your limits.”

Whatever the motive, significant planning is necessary. “For me it was about 5 months,” Wallace says. “Some people plan for years—it usually takes a long time to fundraise or arrange your crew and help.” Most crews involve at least one person to drive an RV and prepare meals throughout the trip. Having a vehicle also provides portable shelter and is handy in case of emergencies.

You’ll also need to decide on your route. “You’ll want to stay off interstates and just run on secondary roads,” says Wallace, who notes that runners are not allowed on many major highways. “The middle of America is where the meat is tough; it took me two weeks to cross Texas, and I can still remember just about every day.”

Budgeting is also necessary, although your journey can be as extravagant or as inexpensive as you’d like. “You can have a huge entourage with buses or RVs, or you can push all your possessions in a baby jogger,” Wallace says. “I tried to limit mine to $1 per mile; I think I did 3,800 miles for about $3,500.”

Things you’ll need to purchase before your trip include a phone and/or computer that can connect to the internet, and a camera. Large quantities of fluids and foods are required; for Neville’s 2010 run, her RV contained (among other things)100 jugs of water, 25 boxes of electrolyte powder, 24 boxes of pasta, 15 steaks, and more than 110 pounds of rice. Kitchen items, such as a portable grill, utensils, and pots are necessary for preparing food.

And then, of course, there’s running gear. Neville brought one Tyvex running suit, 25 pairs of socks, 10 pairs of shoes, 10 shorts, a reflector vest, 10 sports bras, two hats, and three ponchos.

And because you don’t want to run across the country in a stench cloud, make sure to pack plenty of hygiene and first aid items. This includes toilet paper, bath towels, aspirin, sun block, ice packs, and more.

“Things you don’t think about are quarters and detergent for laundry, extra tires for the baby jogger, an AM/FM radio, bug spray, calling cards for payphones (there are still some out there!), and a physical map,” Wallace says. Safety items such as flashlights, fire extinguishers and traffic cones are also good to have on hand.

The average person takes 112 days to cross the country on foot, a feat that most agree is worth the months of planning and running. According to Neville, “It was, and remains, a true test of the human spirit, even thought it was only the act of putting one foot in front of the other and by faith, moving forward.”

Lead Photo: Courtesy of Whitney Dreier

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